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Session 1What is energy? And why do we need to talk about the energy transition?

Energy is increasingly a hot topic. Recent history has seen an energy crisis every few years, with the wholesale prices of oil and gas being impacted by international conflicts, resource scarcity and the need to keep making profit for shareholders of oil and gas companies. But what is energy and why is it so important in relation to tackling climate change?

Energy is a key part of modern living. It is needed to heat our homes, cook our food, connect with our friends and family, and light our streets. It helps us to move about - in our car, trains or planes. Energy is also essential in the making of plastic, steel and a huge range of other industrial and consumer products.

If you take your energy bill, most households will pay for electricity - which comes either from burning fossil fuels or a mix of fossil fuels and renewables - and gas, which provides heating and cooking fuel.

Most of our energy comes from fossil fuels, a non renewable source of energy. Fossil fuels currently supply about 80% of the world’s energy. The three main types of fossil fuels powering our world today are coal, oil and gas. Fossil fuels are made of decomposed plants and animals that died millions of years ago. The buried remains created carbon-rich deposits that can be extracted and burned for energy. Burning these fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses (e.g. methane) into the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gasses trap heat in our atmosphere leading to global warming and climate change. Already the global average temperature has increased by 1℃. This may not sound much but an increase of average temperatures above 1.5℃ risks sea level rise, extreme weather events such as wildfires and floods, biodiversity loss and extinction, food scarcity, and worsening health and poverty.

As we have shown above, energy is an integral part of how the world functions. The types of energy we use will determine whether we avoid the worst impacts of climate change or not. Continuous and unchecked burning of fossil fuels will lead to an increase of average temperatures beyond 1.5 degrees and catastrophic climate change. This is why we urgently need to transition away from fossil fuels to more sustainable forms of energy. Ultimately, we must take action now to avoid the most extreme impacts of climate change and transition to a more environmentally and socially sustainable way of life. We explore the different dimensions of the energy transition in the following sessions.

Throughout history there have been key moments in the history of humanity that have shifted our collective trajectories. The choices we make in how we respond to climate change will be a huge part of that; at a time when global cooperation is essential, will we work collectively to create changes that benefit everyone? To gain insight into how collective action has developed over time listen to our podcast below.